The Sea Wolves Page 18

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“And yet he is closer every day,” Sabine said. “In any case, one day he will believe he is ready to exact revenge on his brother and his pack, and regain what was his.”

“His pride?” Jack asked, and Sabine shook her head, coming to sit next to him again. She placed her hand on his leg, and he felt the warmth through his clothing.

“I think it’s something much deeper than that,” she said. “I’m not sure it’s something we can ever understand. Ghost really is unique.”

“It sounds like he impresses you,” Jack said, hating the petulance he could not keep from his voice.

“Oh, Jack,” Sabine said softly, “he fascinates me.” She leaned in to kiss him, and he was taken away again. They parted reluctantly, and Jack knew instantly that there was still more to tell.

“What is it?”

“Nothing.”

“Sabine. There are things about me you can’t quite know. I’ve seen and done things beyond your imagining, and perhaps one day I’ll tell you.” She looked haunted, and he was sorry for upsetting her. But he also believed she deserved to know that he had encountered the supernatural before, and that he had expanded his own senses to the point where he bore a touch of the supernatural himself. “I know there’s something else bothering you right now, because I can sense it.”

“Death,” she said. For a moment Jack wasn’t sure quite what she meant, and then she explained. “Death Nilsson is coming for Ghost. His ship is two days away.”

Jack stared at her, his heart thundering into a gallop. “So the confrontation is coming at last. And soon.” He ran a hand over his scruff of beard. One ship of monsters was perilous enough, but in a fight between the two brothers and their packs, he and Sabine would surely die. “Ghost is planning his revenge?”

Sabine stood and rifled through the charts on the table, choosing one and placing her hand just above it, fingers splayed.

“He would be, if I’d told him Death was coming. I’ve decided not to wait until Ghost is ready for their reunion. I’m going to give him what he wants, but ahead of schedule.” She moved her hand slowly left and right, humming so softly that it was barely audible, then moved around the table to do it again from several other angles. She touched the map with the small finger of her left hand. “Here. Death’s ship is here.”

Jack looked, then asked her where they were now. She passed her hand across that chart and pointed to another spot.

“When will Ghost know?”

“Unless I tell him, not until the ship is spied on the horizon.”

Jack understood then. Sabine had sensed Death’s ship but had purposefully kept it from Ghost, so that the Larsen would be taken by surprise. She might die, but she was willing to risk it so that Ghost might also be destroyed.

“And then?”

“Death’s ship is bigger and faster, and his crew is twice the size of the Larsen’s.”

Jack thought about it, then began to nod.

“All right. This can work. It forces us to move quickly, but all the better, I think. Sometime just before the attack is when we make our escape. There’ll be confusion as Ghost and his wolves react. But…” Jack frowned, trying to think of how they could flee across the sea without dying in its depths, how they might distract Ghost and his crew for long enough to jump ship.

“This crew is already unsettled,” Sabine said. “Your arrival here has upset the balance more than I’ve ever seen. Everyone’s balance.” She kept her gaze on him, frank and confident.

“A distraction,” Jack said.

“Foment unrest in the crew, and when the time comes, they’ll be less than prepared. Off their guard.”

“They’re already upset at Ghost appointing me mate,” Jack said.

“Another of his games. But our greatest weapon lies in the hold.”

“Their loot.”

The chart room was cool and quiet, and all theirs, and the temptation to remain there together was great. Jack looked up at the ceiling and half closed his eyes, and he sensed Sabine watching him with the same expression he’d worn while watching her divining with the charts—fascination, and respect.

“Ghost is still on deck,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter.” Sabine came close, and her presence was everywhere—he could smell her faint perfume, feel the heat of her, hear her soft breathing and the exquisite rustle of her clothing as she moved. She looked Jack in the eye, her pupils dilated in the murky room. “We can’t risk anything right now.”

“Your powers,” Jack said. “What else do you know?” She was so alluring, and there was knowledge in her eyes that threatened to haunt him. Sometimes her expression exuded such age, and yet her skin was smooth and soft, and she couldn’t have been more than twenty-five. Jack loved an enigma.

“Other things,” Sabine said uncertainly. Bad things? Jack wondered. But she clasped his hands in hers and pulled him even closer. “We shouldn’t risk staying here any longer.”

“You’re right,” Jack said, and her mystery beguiled him. “The hold. Tell me what we need, and why.”

Sabine leaned in to whisper in his ear, told him, and Jack smiled as he began to understand.

Jack returned to his new cabin before making for the hold, pausing five steps away from the galley doorway and listening for Finn. He heard uneven snoring and incoherent, sleepy mumbling, and contented himself that the man was still asleep. He’s dreaming of his imminent death, Jack thought, and a pang of pity for Finn surprised him. He had been a normal man once. A man like Jack, living and breathing, concerned about his family and contemplating what fate the future might bring, good or bad. He’d gone wherever the work was, doing his best to survive, struggling against the obstacles life put in his way as best he could, living as well as life let him. And then he had been brought onto the Larsen and made a monster. All hope and aspiration had been ripped away from him, leaving only a need to eat.

“The hold. Tell me what we need, and why.”

Or perhaps he had always been a murderer.

Thinking of family troubled Jack—by now the Umatilla would have arrived back in Oakland, and his friend Merritt would have tracked down Jack’s mother and sister to tell them of his fate. Everyone beyond this boat now considered him dead, and the Larsen had become his whole world. But to consider their grief would form a weakness within him. It was survival that must drive him on.

In the cabin Jack rooted through Johansen’s belongings, pocketing a sheathed stiletto, a ring of keys, and a bent eating fork—rare among pirates—that was rusting away beneath the cot. He paused for a moment by the closed door and listened, breathing softly as he tried to probe his senses outward in the way of the wild. But he was being drawn back toward the chart room, where something warm, soft, and loving awaited him with bated breath. She’s still awake, he thought, and he knew that Sabine was thinking of him, hoping that he might be the chance she had been awaiting for a long time.

How long, she had not told him. Those mysterious aspects of Sabine intrigued him, though they did not unsettle. There was an honesty about her that he had never sensed in that twisted tree spirit Lesya, far to the north in the wastes of the Yukon. She had been a monster in woman’s clothing, but Sabine was a woman who had suffered monstrously. Jack was her chance, and he would not let her down.

He closed his door and moved past the galley into the mess. It was filled with shadows, but nothing else. Two sets of footsteps moved on the deck above, casual and calm. Huginn and Muninn, perhaps, which meant that Ghost was also still up there. Through the mess and into the gangway, he paused at the foot of the staircase, finding himself drawn strangely upward. That’s not the way, he thought, but there was something about Ghost’s monstrous presence that lured him. Perhaps it was something to do with pride, because he knew that Ghost valued his conversation and intellect. Or maybe it was fascination, because Jack could not deny that while he found the captain repellent, he, like Sabine, also found him mesmerizing. As a child Jack had picked at scabs on his knees, poked angry cats with sticks, balanced on the dock’s edge looking down at the waters below. Danger was alluring, horror compulsive.

He shook the urge and moved on, opening the forbidden door and entering the gangway that ran the length of the hold. He passed the secure room’s heavy door and thought of the long night he’d spent in there with Sabine, and how Ghost had tried shielding his anger when he’d opened the door to find them huddled together on the cot. He paused at the middle doorway and peered through the crack between door and frame. It was pitch-black, but he could smell the faint aroma of rotting fruit and vegetables, and hear the few chickens’ clucking.

It took him several minutes to open the lock. He’d assumed it would be easy—he’d learned how to pick locks from Flowery Bob, a hoodlum from the Oakland docks who’d made a living preying off other people—but in practice it took a level of calm and subtlety that Jack was rapidly losing as the minutes passed. Each failed attempt set him more on edge, and eventually he had to lean back against the bulkhead and take a breath. He expected one of the doors at either end of the gangway to open at any moment. It would not matter who stood silhouetted there; discovery by anyone would put him in peril. With most of the pirates, he’d expect a good beating at least. A few would probably kill him.

One more time, he thought, moving slowly, breathing deeply. He put the bent fork tine into the padlock, then one of the smaller keys from the ring, jiggling and twisting it. The padlock clicked open, and Jack was so surprised that he fumbled it as it fell. It struck the floor with a heavy thump, and he ducked down, trying to reduce the shadow he’d throw when one of the doors opened. He was thirty feet from the forecastle, where most of the pirates slept. If one of them had heard the noise and decided to investigate, he’d be rising from his cot now, climbing the short ladder from the quarters, passing the steep steps leading to the deck, reaching for the door handle, pausing with his head to one side as he listened, and then…

The gangway door remained closed. Jack gasped in relief, pushing the hold door open and entering without checking inside. He closed the door behind him and placed the padlock on the floor beside it, then felt around for a lamp. He found one hanging on a hook, and as he lit it, he tried not to imagine things hunkered down in the heavy darkness, watching.

The light fought back the night and showed him that he was alone.

Baskets of hardtack lay piled against one bulkhead. Crates of cured meats were stacked elsewhere, and he tried not to consider that which had been salted and packed by his own hand. Jars of dried fruit sat tied on a rough shelf, tobacco hung from ceiling supports, several large crabs rotted slowly in one corner, and there were other containers whose contents he could not discern. Three crates held the ship’s chickens, ragged, thin things that sometimes laid, sometimes did not. When the time came to kill and eat them, their meat would be tough and stringy.

It came as no surprise to see at least five different ships’ names on the baskets, crates, and sacks.

But what he sought was not immediately visible. He had no real wish to go rooting through the piles of foodstuffs—he was afraid he might disturb some of the stacks and send them tumbling. If the dropped padlock had not woken anyone, a ruckus from the food store surely would.

I could poison every part of it, he thought. But even if he’d carried a vial of poison, he was not sure he could have gone through with it. They were werewolves and men, killers and, like Louis, perhaps once unwilling victims. Descending to their murderous level might save lives in the future, but to kill them in secret instead of in combat would damn Jack’s own.

He turned in a slow circle, wondering where the true hold might be. What if Sabine was wrong, and all their loot was kept in Ghost’s cabin? If that was the case, then their plan could never work, and they’d have to find another way to do what was required.

“Damn it, it’s got to be here!” he whispered, and then he saw the line in the floor. Jointed boards were generally staggered to give strength, but stretching between a pile of bulging sacks and a stack of crates was a cut directly across the floor, and it could mean only one thing. He moved bags, ignored the clucking chickens as he shifted their crates aside as quietly as he could, and revealed the hatch, just wide enough for a man to lower himself into.

Another padlock, another heart-shaking few minutes to pick it, and then he lifted the hatch and leaned it against the bulkhead. From the darkness below came a deep, constant growl, and the creaking of boards, and the swish of water flowing this way and that. He was deep in the ship here, maybe four feet from the lower hull, and the growl was the sound of water passing over the barnacles clustered on its belly. Finn had had close experience with those barnacles, and if anyone caught Jack here, he’d likely receive the same punishment.

But he was only a man, and imagining those terrible wounds ripped across his own flesh almost made him sick.

Grabbing the oil lamp, he lowered himself into the hole beneath the hold. It was barely four feet high and eight feet square, and piled with boxes, bags, and other containers. He opened a few and saw the glint of precious things.

This was what he had come for. Sabine knew some of what was here, because she had been told. The currents communicated to her, the sound of a ship’s hull transmitted through a thousand miles of water, the swirl of schools of fish, the weight of displacement from one hull to the next, the warm flow and cold draft of different depths. She had not been able to tell Jack how she sensed such things—there was no sight or touch, no sense of discrete awareness or mysterious communication—and the closest she had come to defining her knowledge was to call it forgotten memories remembered once again.

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